Cop Tales: Lost in Space

I was in my 6th year of dispatching for the highway patrol in 2006 and had been contemplating why I should continue with the job. I didn’t feel as though I was making a difference. One night, I was asked to work an overtime shift to cover a sick call which added another 6 hours to my shift. It was only one other person and myself on a graveyard shift.

I took a call from another Dispatch Center advising of an elderly male who was traveling from Washington State to Arizona. He was last seen in Fresno in a mall parking lot. He had been contacted by a security guard and he seemed a little disoriented, but well enough for travel. The family called the highway patrol because they had not been able to make contact with him for several hours and he was diagnosed with Dementia. He was not supposed to be traveling alone.

I received the information with his vehicle description and a cell phone number, and while my partner was putting out the information to all the units, I was attempting to make contact with the man. He actually answered on the first try, and I began asking him questions like, “Do you know where you are? What do you see around you?” and, “Are you injured at all?” He initially told me he was in front of an antique store and he could not find his wife. He was sure she went inside and she had not come back out. He was very upset. He then said he was across from what he thought was a Target store, so we sent units to search near all the Target stores in town.

We passed along the information to other agencies as well. For the next six hours, I talked with the man. Each time, he changed his story. I gathered more information from him and I passed it to our other dispatch centers for broadcast as well. They were able to ping his cell phone and he appeared to be on a roadway in the desert somewhere, but they could not locate him that night. I had to go home with a heavy heart not knowing his location. I didn’t sleep well and had to be back to work early the next morning.

A deputy in that county located his car early the next morning, but it was vacant. He kept searching and finally located the man approximately one mile from his car, in a ravine covered in scorpions and unconscious. He was airlifted to the hospital, severely dehydrated and barely able to speak. When I saw he had been rescued, I was relieved to the point of tears. I had established such a connection with him that he told his wife that I was his angel that saved him. She advised he remembered my name because it was the same as their daughter’s name. His daughter called dispatch and spoke to me as did his wife, and she just kept thanking me for being there for him and that I was an angel.

It was then that I realized why people spend half their life in this job and I continued for another eight years before retiring. His daughter kept in touch with me for the next four years. Although her dad was in a rest home and barely spoke, he knew my voice when his daughter called me and asked me to speak to him. He cried and called me “Angel”.

This one incident really changed me and changed how I did my job from then on. I may have helped save him, but he saved me as well and made me a better person and dispatcher. -PG